Case Study: Met Office

Humanising the weather for the Met Office

At the grand old age of 164, the Met Office has been advising Britons on whether they should bring a brolly since the days of mariners and sailing ships. However, after the conclusion of its decades-long partnership with the BBC, it found itself in the midst of a sea change. Respected, well-established but seemingly inherently tied to the BBC label, the Met Office tasked us with spearheading its digital rebrand.

Together, we scoped out their sector, conducted exploratory projects for their app presence and led a major website redesign; ultimately delivering what we hope will revolutionise the weather.

Objectives

There were a number of challenges facing the Met Office’s website. Having been left to its own devices for several years, the Met Office’s website had grown organically and unguided into a tangle of nearly 60,000 pages. Content, while invaluable to its audience, was siloed, hidden away from interested eyes and – worse still – was often misunderstood by those who did access it.

Meanwhile, despite its standing as a household name, the Met Office had become synonymous with the BBC’s weather section; with many believing that it was only the provider of data to the institution rather than a weather forecast provider in its own right. It was clear the Met Office needed to extend its reach and reputation.

We began by holding interviews with 12 of the organisation’s stakeholders to establish key objectives. These were to:

  • Identify and personalise user journeys
  • Boost visibility of the industry-leading content produced by the Met Office
  • Increase reach and develop brand strength
  • Push the boundaries of how weather information is communicated
  • Capitalise on the Met Office’s bounty of data (of which it used just 1%)

Examining the sector

Our kick off workshop tackled channel mapping and recruitment criteria and helped to solidify our understanding of their audience. This was followed by a round of desktop and market research, and an analysis of their existing data. We examined competitors’ services, features, visuals and overall online presence. We found that while the Met Office’s data may inform many forecasters in the sector, it did not mean it was immune to competition.

The weather market is crowded and dominated by the Big Three (namely BBC Weather, Accuweather and The Weather Channel). But in between these larger names smaller companies were nestled; these occupy much of the app-reach the Met Office wanted to move into. But there are lessons to be learnt here – what these smaller brands lacked in reach they made up for in differentiation. Often the novelty of the experiences were enough, while others catered to niche demographics, like hobbyists or enthusiasts.

We then turned our attention to consumer research. Knowing weather impacts regions in varying ways, we sent our UX researchers (and now rookie meteorologists) around the UK to get wind of consumer pain points. We conducted reviews in Bristol, Glastonbury (due to its positioning on a flood plain), Manchester and the Brecon Beacons (thanks to its mountains).

For our rounds of user testing, recruits were made up of the general public (think dog owners and commuters); the health and safety concerned (those with hay fever or breathing issues like asthma); sportspeople (both grass-based and extreme); and business owners (one highlight being a vintage ice-cream stall owner). Testing revealed a whole roster of behaviours, motivations and lessons that we later used to build our personas.

Cloudy with a chance of content

Prior to the restructuring of the website’s IA (Information Architecture), content was poorly organised and difficult to find on the website. But it presented a chance to heighten engagement and offer real value to users. Market research bolstered this, finding that surfacing weather-related content was already a strategy for competitors.

We found that educational or interest-driven content appealed to users, but only once they found the forecast information they needed. In the next phase of Alpha, we will devise a taxonomy and tagging system capable of surfacing content based on the weather forecast and related topics. Combined with an improved, user-needs driven IA, this will make it easier to find content and organically explore the website. Looking forward, adding this sort of structure to the content will bring additional value by better supporting voice interfaces and improving the way search engines can preview content in rich snippets.

We also crunched 12 months of analytics. Revealing, for instance, that by optimising content to be findable via ‘weather’ rather than ‘weather forecast’, the Met Office could increase its reach from 1.5m a month to 6.9m. These learnings fed into the content, increasing both reach and advertising revenue.

Read more about Content Strategy

Undertaking user research to unpick symbols

While the validity of the Met Office's data was never contested – in fact, 29% said they went to the Met Office in times of severe weather and for specialist information – testing revealed a lapse between user expectations and understanding. We found that while participants generally preferred symbols and felt they had a good grasp of their meanings, when pressed most could not identify them.

Crucially, this disrupted user behaviour and had a negative effect on brand perception. When users misjudged what a symbol represented, they blamed the data rather than their own judgement. Consequently, we are currently exploring how we can communicate this information in more human-friendly ways. For instance, we are working on an algorithm to support the Met Office’s digital channels that will utilise natural language to summarise a day’s weather.

Similarly, we found that we could enhance usability by altering the way timescales were conveyed. Many people accessed the Met Office’s data when looking for a ‘window’ in the weather – for instance, running to the shops when it temporarily stopped raining. However, current designs were not accurate enough. This led us to design a bar that indicates how much longer weather will last for, rather than an hour-by-hour update.

Read more about UX Research

Humanising the weather

Elsewhere, we investigated how health conditions influenced the way people interact with weather forecasts. We found that people whose health was affected by the weather – for example, by changes in UV, pollen counts or pollution ratings – were surprisingly passive about checking the weather. Participants said that this was largely because managing the weather and their health was ‘instinctual’, but it also often led to potential problems, like forgetting their inhaler.

Moreover, information concerning pollen counts or pollution was often buried or not prioritised on the page. We devised both a notification strategy and a content redesign to counteract this. The updated website would feature health-impacting information clearly at the top of the page, and we are currently researching how we can send push notifications such as ‘remember your inhaler’ – via the Met Office app.

Finally, the analysis of this research was fed into 40 user stories and seven, shiny personas. Rich in meta-data, each identified a channel of choice, fixed criteria, Met Office segments, priorities, pain points, motivations and goals. The user stories were also essential for development, as they formed the basis of all the development tickets used to complete the rebuild of the website.

Designing for tomorrow

This is just the beginning of our ongoing collaboration with the Met Office. We will continue to evolve and iterate upon not just these stories across the Alpha and BAU work-streams, but on various other innovative projects we have in the pipeline. From new features for its app to creating sustainable solutions for its digital estate, it is an exciting time to be working with the Met Office and we look forward to what the future holds – come rain or shine.

If you’d like to learn more about our strategic UX design services, contact us on +44 (0)117 929 733 or drop us an email at hello@nomensa.com.